By Simon Bahceli
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Voters in breakaway northern Cyprus elect a president on Sunday whose main task will be to represent them in reunification talks that are expected to resume on the ethnically divided island next month.
Opinion polls put conservative incumbent Dervis Eroglu in the lead ahead of the six other candidates but he is not expected to win enough votes in the first round, paving the way for a runoff with his nearest rival on April 26.
Only Turkey recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The international community views the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia as the legitimate government of the whole island.
Turkish Cypriots have become deeply skeptical about the prospects for reunification and so another conservative candidate, Kudret Ozersay, may also do well, eroding support for Eroglu and inadvertently helping one of the candidates more supportive of the talks, political analysts say.
"Presidential elections have always given a clear indication of the Turkish Cypriot community's view on the Cyprus problem. This time however it might be different," said sociologist Kudret Akay.
"In recent years the Turkish Cypriots' attitude has hardened as a result of perceived Greek Cypriot intransigence in negotiations, a view most closely represented by Dervis Eroglu."
"However Eroglu's vote is likely to be significantly eroded by Kudret Ozersay, who to some extent also represents this view," he said, adding that a more pragmatic contender may therefore make it through to the second round.
Ozersay is an academic with years of experience in the stop-go reunification negotiations with the Greek Cypriots. Other leading presidential candidates include leftist Mustafa Akinci and centrist Sibel Siber.
Almost 177,000 Turkish Cypriots are eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
Cyprus was split by a Turkish military invasion in 1974 which followed a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Peace talks have floundered for years, but a United Nations envoy said recently said he was optimistic that the negotiations could resume soon.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, with the Greek Cypriot government, whose writ now runs only in the south, officially representing the whole island.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)